The majority of people who look into mobile development focus on the price. The first and most popular question we at MindK hear from clients who are interested in our app development services is, “How much does it cost to build an app?”. Unfortunately, there are no software companies that can simply put a price tag on your idea. There are two main reasons for that: the development process is a really intense one, and there are plenty of factors that affect the final price.
Can you remember making repairs to your house? You can’t receive the final cost of repair until you specify the house area, interior design, building materials, the furniture you need to leverage, and so on. And at the same time, you will very likely receive completely different repair cost estimates from different repair companies. The same thing applies with the cost to develop your app.
This article will help you figure out how much time, money, and effort it takes to get your application up and running. Let’s start with a deeper insight into exactly what you need to pay for.
What does the mobile app development process look like?
Nobody wants to buy a pig in a poke. So, before you pay money for any service, you should instead know what work will be done. This practical wisdom works for app development as well.
The first thing that should be mentioned about app development is that this process is not only about coding. The app development process consists of a bunch of tasks carried out by a team of different professionals: business analysts, developers, QA and DevOps engineers, as well as UI/UX designers and project managers. Here is a typical app development cycle from concept to release.
Now, let’s find out which app development activities you will actually need to pay for.
- Requirements gathering and analysis. At this stage, the business analyst defines project goals and end-user needs and creates a Software Requirements Specification, Architectural Design Specification, Functional Requirements Document, or product backlog. This step is very important as it lays the foundation stone for all further development activities.
- Design. The design stage includes app interface design, user experience design, interaction design, app icon design, and much more. The designer provides a client with wireframes, mockups, and so on. If required, there is the possibility of providing a client with a clickable prototype that is an interactive visual representation of the user interface of the app.
- Development. A team of developers converts a design into a complete software system. It includes acquiring and installing a systems environment, making database architecture, enabling API (Application Programming Interface) integrations (if involved), and writing and running unit tests.
- Integration and testing. Brings all the pieces of the app together into a testing environment, ensuring that the developed app conforms to requirements as specified in project documentation (providing UI, UX testing, cross-browser testing, user acceptance testing, and other types of testing).
- Launch. Here the app is put into production. It includes resolution of problems defined in the previous stage, load testing, publishing to the App Store or Google Play (in cases where you’ve developed a native app), and support by the development team.
Now you know what process to expect from your development team and can see that project development costs are shared between several connected app development services.
The next rule for app development pricing is quite straightforward—the more time a company has invested into building your app, the higher the cost for that app will be. It leads to a simple calculation of the mobile app development cost:
App Cost = Development Time * Hourly Rate
As you likely have no estimate for the project now, let’s get a clearer picture of what impacts the final price of your app.
What are the main factors that influence app pricing?
Mobile app development pricing depends on five key factors that you have to decide upon before building an app:
- the type of app;
- platform (Android, iOS, or both);
- technical complexity of the features and infrastructure;
- app development team required; and
- engagement model that suits your business.
Sure, there are other details that have an impact on the app development cost as well. But as the five factors mentioned are the most crucial ones, let’s talk about them in more detail.
Factor #1: Type of the application
If you’re going to reach out to a software company, you should already have a coherent idea of the target audience, hence, the approximate functionality of your future app. This will bring you to the first step in the app’s estimating process.
It goes without saying that there are simple apps, medium-complexity apps, and complex apps on the market. You can easily find this classification on the web. It describes:
- simple apps as those that involve simple UX/UI elements and features, a limited number of screens, and no data storage;
- medium-complexity apps involve intermediate business logic, custom UI elements, some third-party integrations; and
- complex apps include complex features with advanced business logic, a fully custom UI, complicated architecture, multiple integrations, and the need for high-security demands.
In the modern world, complicated by a pandemic outbreak and economic turbulence, speed and agility have become key parameters in any business. Those who can make decisions promptly, be flexible, and adapt to changes take the lead. This state of things leaves an imprint on the software development process, too.
In the current changing business environment, building a complex app from scratch is a rare case. More and more companies opt for the Agile software development methodology that presupposes an iterative approach. This means building products where the whole process is broken into smaller parts, thus delivering the functionality step by step.
Here at MindK, most of the projects we develop follow the Agile methodology. In view of this, we suggest three main types of mobile apps that are in demand today:
Proof of concept (PoC)
Cost: $20 000 – $25 000
Timeline: 2 – 5 weeks
A proof of concept, or POC, is the very basic variant of the future application that helps to evaluate the mobile app idea and test it to see if it will work. It helps analyze your app’s feasibility, as well as its possible design, features, and go-to-market strategy.
The entire purpose of a PoC is to demonstrate whether or not the functionality can be developed in the real world, what the potential barriers are to the product’s development and acceptance by users. The final PoC design doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should demonstrate the concept’s feasibility before moving further with development.
So, PoC is a very simple variant of the app with a simplistic UI/UX design just to check whether it is possible to build such an app and if it is in demand.
This is exactly what we did for Melody, a music search engine for musicians, film and video producers, DJs, and multimedia designers. To test the viability of the app idea, we developed a PoC—a robust Progressive Web Application (PWA) performing well on various devices. After it was highly praised by the public, we moved on to improving the functionality.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Cost: $75 000 – $100 000
Timeline: 2 – 3 months
The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept is quite simple: it represents the basic version of a new application possessing enough features to satisfy customers and collect maximum feedback. To be more specific, here is how it is encoded:
Minimum: a basic set of features and capabilities which are…
Viable: provides a value to the customers, so that they are ready to pay money, and a …
Product: ready to use today.
In this light, Minimum Viable Product is the early version of the app with a simple but functional UI/UX design that contains a minimum set of core features that makes it viable and allows it to launch as soon as possible. MVP allows companies to test assumptions, and receive feedback from real users. This way, MVP helps to reduce costs and avoids wasting time and resources on creating an ineffective and irrelevant solution.
Because of these benefits and the fact that it helps companies deal with a number of problems, we at MindK believe the MVP is a great way to start up a software product. Most of our clients’ solutions are developed from the MVP.
To shed light on the process of developing an MVP for everyone interested, we published a step-by-step guide on how to develop an MVP that helps avoid a number of failures.
Timeline: 3+ months
Fully-functional app is a more complex variant of the application that requires more time and effort to develop. Quite often, such apps include many complex features with advanced business logic and require a fully custom UI. They also require complicated architecture, multiple API integrations, and the need to meet high-security demands.
Using the example of the Melody case mentioned above, after we developed the PoC which was warmly received by users and investors, we moved on to develop a feature-rich application aimed at meeting user needs (and the client knew exactly what those needs were thanks to PoC).
As a result, a simple PWA turned into feature-rich mobile applications for iOS and Android together with a web application. In addition to basic features, we added more complex ones like descriptive dashboards for music creators and producers with in-depth analytics, smart and easy-to-use melody filtering, and much more.
Factor #2: The platform chosen
Another factor that affects the price is the platform you choose. For mobile apps, these platforms are classified into categories like:
- Native app, where the app is designed using the unique rules of the targeted operating system, such as Android or iOS;
- Hybrid app is one that behaves like a web application but can be installed on the phone.
- Progressive web app (PWA) are web apps that simulate the behavior of native mobile apps and can be accessed from the browser. This is the PWA that we developed as the PoC for the Melody app.
Since hybrid and progressive apps target a bigger audience with fewer development resources, it is always a more cost-effective solution, especially when your requirements aren’t extensive and you don’t rely on the native functions of a certain platform.
You may also inquire whether there is a cost difference in app development between iOS and Android. No, usually not. The app development schedule and developer rates for Android and iOS apps are now nearly identical. Sure, there are certain technical differences in the development process, so we dedicated a separate article that will help you make the right choice – Android vs. iOS development.
Important things that should also be taken into account here are the target audience you plan to focus on. Android, for example, has a wider market penetration and reach, particularly in emerging markets, while users spend less in the Google Play store than in the App Store. Global consumer spending in the App Store reached $21.2 in Q3 2022 and only $11.5 billion on Google Play.
Factor #3: The number and technical complexity of the features
It’s up to you to decide which range of features you want within your mobile application, so rate them from simple to medium to high complexity. Keep in mind that price is largely shaped by how long it takes developers to implement each of these.
Back in 2015, Clutch did comprehensive research about the cost to create an app. Sure, it’s been a while since then, however, some things remain the same—some features are more complicated and time-consuming to develop than others.
For example, basic features like login and subscription can take 20 hours to develop, however, more complicated functionality, like payment system integration and visual analytics, may take more than 150 hours and cost more.
API integrations also significantly raise the cost of building an app. Even services that customers can’t live without today, like geolocation, are now more expensive.
Overall, before investing important resources in a feature, you should evaluate its necessity and feasibility.
Factor #4: Selecting a development team
This is the part that requires special attention. Having the right partner for the development task will ease the entire process of app development. There are many companies that claim to be “a top mobile development company”, but not many are able to walk the talk. There is no guarantee that going with an expensive company will produce an app capable of giving you your money back.
You might wonder why a high price doesn’t equal high quality. Let’s look at factors that form pricing:
- Company size.
- Level of experience.
The level of infrastructure and economy of the country is one of the most essential cost-influencing factors. From the viewpoint of average monthly rates charged by app development companies, observe the following picture:
However, you should keep in mind that the project team is not a developers-only club. Depending on the project needs, you may also need other team roles like UI/UX Designer, Business Analyst, Project Manager, Quality Assurance, and DevOps engineer. Their rates are also highly dependent on the region.
For example, for our project Juvo, an app for group communication dedicated for local communities in Norway, our project team counted eight people, including Project manager, iOS and Android developers, Back-end developer, and QA engineers. On this project, we also started app development with an MVP—first released MVPs for iOS and Android apps and then improved the applications.
All businesses start with a few people who take on the roles and responsibilities of many. As the team and number of projects grow, some roles become more specialized and some even redundant. One designer becomes a team of designers plus a team of managers to lead and administer them.
Some of the largest software development firms, the “big boys” if you will, won’t give you the time of day if your budget is not at least $500,000. That’s no surprise, because they must spend 50-65% of that cost on technical personnel, 15-20% for administrative expenses, 10-15% for sales and marketing and 10-15% is left for profit.
In some cases, as the headcount grows, companies start to recruit more administrative personnel and tech guys straight out of college – so the net productive output per person shrinks. Our own approach at MindK, for example, is focused on having a smaller team of the very best people in the industry versus simply pushing up our headcount.
Level of experience
This is the thing you can’t go cheap with. What separates OK from great can be seen in the quality of the work. As a baseline, view the companies’ portfolio, check out apps they created, and reviews on platforms like Clutch and DesignRush will speak directly about their quality of work.
Factor #5: Choosing an engagement model
Basically, there are three most common types of engagement models (or pricing models) available for app development: Fix price, Time-and-material, and Dedicated team. There are some other types, but in many cases are just combinations of these.
We’ve reviewed these major types when talking about the differences between engagement models. As a brief summary:
- Fixed price is when the development company estimates the project and provides a fixed price for its implementation before the project begins. This model is great when you have clear-cut requirements. However, it can be a more expensive one, as the development company includes all possible risks in the price.
Our general advice to clients is to start with the fixed-price model for PoC or MVP development. Further, after receiving the first user reviews of your application – go with a more flexible model either a time-and-material or dedicated team model.
- Time and Materials implies that the client pays for the actual hours of work of the external team. In practice, this model is applied when the vision of the product is not crystal-clear, the reality of the market changes dynamically, the involved tech rapidly evolves, and when you can’t predict the full and final project scope.
- Dedicated team means the company provides specialists with the required expertise. The cost of the dedicated team consists of the combined salary of all team members. A dedicated team approach is the best option for projects with definite goals and flexible requirements.
Most Agile projects in MindK work well by engaging a dedicated development team. Sure, it is not the only option we insist on, but it offers greater opportunities for flexibility.
It is also great for long-term partnerships with the development partner. We recommend this engagement model if the client can foresee a workload that will last for at least a year.
How to reduce the cost of mobile app development?
Now that you understand the major factors that influence mobile app development price, let’s take a closer look at the different methods companies use to lower the cost of developing mobile apps. Some of them were already mentioned in this article, but we would like to draw special attention to them as they really may be considered cost-reduction elements:
- Start with MVP. As you can see from the types of mobile apps, when compared to a fully-functional app, the cost of an MVP app is much less. Great businesses like Groupon, Airbnb, Uber, and many more all started with an MVP. Following MVP development best practices helps you validate your core value proposition, save money and time by not creating the app you think the users need, and receive a powerful tool to raise money for your application.
- Carefully prioritize features. Well-thought-out feature prioritization is paramount for successful project execution. It helps with cost control and ensures the best time to market. Instead of including all of the functionalities in the first iteration, determine what functionality you require and wish to provide.
At MindK, we always pay great attention so that the backlog is manageable. It means the backlog should not contain seven hundred items, as it will be totally unclear for the development team and cost you a pretty penny. For example, what functionality do you use in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel? How much of it? Five percent or the whole percent? Maybe even 30% of it, then you are an honest power user! Thus, the right prioritization of features for each iteration can save you a lot of time and money by eliminating features that you believed users would require.
- Opt for cross-platform app development. Developing an app for iOS and Android users separately will cost you dearly. A cross-platform app or PWA is an excellent way to cut development costs. These apps are created with a variety of online and mobile technologies. They offer the same features as native applications but work well on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows. They are less expensive to maintain, and code reuse saves engineers’ work.
By the way, except for cost reduction, PWA can bring a lot more to the table. For example, it helped increase conversion by 74% for Alibaba, offered an increase in user engagement by 100% for Forbes and 150% for Trivago, and decreased the bounce rate for Twitter and Settled. To find out more about how PWA benefits companies, check out our article about Progressive Web App examples.
- Simplicity at its best for UI/UX. One of the tried-and-true methods for lowering app development expenses is to choose a minimal, yet appealing design for your app. Because elaborate designs tend to mislead new users, minimalism is always bound to provide a superior user experience. Many organizations choose simple designs to reduce design expenses.
- Use existing platforms, libraries, and third-party services. There are several open-source tools, frameworks, libraries, and third-party services available to help accelerate the development process. To add standard functionality to your project, you no longer need to create unique components and features.
Using a third-party message service, connecting an existing ordering system, or voice messaging, such as Twilio, for example, can greatly cut development costs and time.
- Outsource your app development. As we already found out, geographic location influences the average cost of mobile app development. The most costly developers to employ are in the United States.
With outsourced app development, you receive access to global tech talent, while cutting costs and accelerating app development. So, why opt for costly in-house development when you have access to a global talent pool and cost-effective development opportunities?
Final words and how we estimate the project
As you can see from this guide, building an app does not come cheap. There are a huge number of factors that influence the cost that can either raise or decrease the final mobile app development cost estimate.
If you have a restricted mobile app development budget, consider creating a PoC, MVP, or cross-platform app. This reduces app functionality, app maintenance, and, ultimately, app development costs. Moreover, in the case of a ready PoC or MVP in your hands, you get the opportunity to raise additional funding for a full-functioning application.
At MindK, we help early startups and enterprises develop applications from scratch. To receive a cost estimate, please, share your app idea and list of requirements with us, and we’ll prepare a rough estimate for you—it is a document that provides a general idea of the cost of your project. Here is our workflow :